Thursday 22 February 2018

Pacifism no longer option for Germany, warns Fillon

Francois Fillon
Francois Fillon

Henry Samuel in Paris

Pacifism is no longer an option for Germany after the Berlin Christmas market attack, France’s conservative presidential candidate François Fillon insisted yesterday as he prepares to meet Angela Merkel to outline his plans for Europe.

Mr Fillon, described as a Gallic Thatcherite, is the favourite to become France’s next president in elections in April and May after the surprise victory in primaries for his right-wing party, the Republicans.

In his first major media appearance since becoming the centre-right nominee, the Gaullist pledged to focus on defence, security and a more integrated eurozone.

“The election of Donald Trump and the tragedy in Berlin [the Christmas market truck attack that killed 12] have been a game-changer,” he said to journalists at his campaign headquarters at the Porte de Versailles, Paris.

“For the United States, our continent will likely not be a priority any more and for Germany, a certain idea of pacifism is gone. France must seize this opportunity to remobilise the European Union around strategic priorities: our collective security, defence, innovation and the retightening of the eurozone,” he said.

Mr Fillon, who offered no details about what constituted a tighter eurozone, said he would “spell out my orientations for Europe” to Mrs Merkel, who aides said he would meet in Berlin on January 23. Mr Fillon and the German chancellor see eye to eye on economic issues, with the former French prime minister intent on cutting half a million state sector jobs within five years and burying the 35-hour working week.


However, the pair differ on issues such as Turkey, migration and Europe. Unlike Mrs Merkel, he has called for a strategic partnership with Russia to fight Isil in Syria, and to keep communication open with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. This has drawn praise from Russia’s president Vladimir Putin and Mr Assad, who said this week: “His rhetoric on terrorism, making combating terrorists a priority and not interfering in other countries’ business, was welcome.”

Mr Fillon’s aides were quick to respond by saying that he “has nothing to do with Bashar al-Assad, who is a dictator, and has blood on his hands”. But Bruno Retailleau, his campaign co-ordinator, said: “When you want peace, sometimes you have to bring to the table people with dirty hands.”

After his speech, Mr Fillon insisted that “Mrs Merkel is much more pragmatic on Putin than one might think but she is very prudent”.

Mr Fillon made the comments as the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party called for France and other “weak” economies to be thrown out of the euro.

Jorg Meuthen, a senior figure within the party, called for the eurozone to be split in two and southern EU members to be prevented from using the single currency.

Meanwhile, Britain will not forge links with far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen because the government has a policy of not engaging with her party, the UK’s ambassador to France has said.

Edward Llewellyn, who was formerly David Cameron’s chief of staff in Downing Street, told MPs that while his staff were making contact with other French presidential candidates they have no relations with the Front National leader.

 “With respect to the Front National, we have a policy of not engaging,” he said at a foreign affairs select committee meeting.

“That is the policy, which has been the policy for many years.”

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